Published in Ind Samachar
In the wake of cracker ban by the Supreme Court on the entire country, Diwali this year (2018) has evoked great interest among people comparing the variants of this festival in different parts of the country spanning over a period of not just one day, but five days, making people wonder which day was referred to by the Supreme Court in its stricture on fire-crackers. With most of South India celebrating Diwali as Naraka Chaturdasi, there is another dissenting voice heard from the fringe political elements in Tamilnadu condemning the festival as glorification of murder, as the story goes that Diwali was the celebration of elimination of Narakasura by Krishna. Those fringe elements had gone to the extent of glorifying Narakasura – without even knowing who he is – in their urge to sully Krishna, the Hindu deity. Analysis of these two issues, the variants in Diwali and the truth about the death of Narakasura brings us to a pleasant conclusion on the very long history and spread of Hinduism across Asia.
Basis of Diwali legends.
Starting of a new life after destruction is the basic theme in the different legends of Diwali celebrated throughout India. A popular version in North India is that Diwali marks the return of Rama to Ayodhya after the destruction of Ravana, while the fact remains that Rama returned on a Pushyami day and not on the day of Chitra or Swati when Diwali occurs. The only justification for this deviation from the original fact could have been the tradition that Diwali marks the ushering in of Light after a period of gloom! So there is something special about the day that even if Krishna’s legend is forgotten, people had felt it necessary to replace it with an olden legend of Rama without checking the veracity of it, only to be in consonance with the importance of the day. This goes to show that there is something cosmologically important for the day of Diwali. The following illustration shows the cosmic position of the day.
The illustration shows two signs in opposite ends, namely Aries and Libra. Aries marks the coming of the New Year in the northern hemisphere of the globe. The opposite holds good for the southern hemisphere, that is, Libra heralds the arrival of the New Year in the southern hemisphere. It is in the month of Libra around the time of the new Moon, Diwali is celebrated throughout India. It is a 5-day festival in its entirety starting from the 13th tithi before the New Moon and ending on the 2nd tithi after the new Moon. Within this period comes the New Year of the southern hemisphere– on the day after New Moon. Wonder of wonders, this is the New Year for only one people of India (northern hemisphere) – that is the people of Gujarat, the land ruled by Krishna!
Doesn’t it sound puzzling that what is rationally the New Year in the southern hemisphere happens to be the New Year for the land of Krishna?
If we probe deeper, we would see that the now discarded Vikrama Era started on the same day as in the southern hemisphere. Its original name was ‘Krita’ or ‘Purva’ Era indicating its origin in antiquity. It was followed by the Mālava gaṇa, whose origins can be traced to the paternal home of Savitri, famous for getting back to life her husband Satyavan from the noose of Yama. Malavi was the name of Savitri’s mother and by the boon extracted by Savitri from Yama, the sons of Malavi came to be known as Mālavas whose location came to be named after them as Malwa. That Mālavas had followed the tradition of the southern hemisphere could only mean their ancestors had their origin somewhere in the southern hemisphere.
The Vikrama Era followed by them can be related to Trivikrama in the legend of Bali, an Asura whose location can be traced to the southern hemisphere. (Usually the inhabitants of the southern parts were known as Asuras while those of the north were known as Devas. Another definition of an Asura is that he is a tormenter). The dominance of Mahabali, the Asura tells of a time when the Southern hemisphere was brimming with life. With movement of Time, the location of life shifts places. This happened when the Northern hemisphere started becoming habitable and the southern hemisphere went under water. This is made out in the story of Mahabali.
Mahabali initiated Diwali.
The narration of Vamana Purana on Mahabali sounds metaphorical of geological events of land forms experiencing tremors and going under water. Wherever Vamana went –even when he was in his mother’s womb – the land lowered. The lowered land got easily inundated with sea water. After Vamana was born and went on to meet Bali, the same thing happened. When Vamana placed his foot on Bali’s head, Bali sank into Pātāla which is the lowermost layer of the earth’s crust and the covering over the mantle. This is an allegorical description of loss of land into deep sea. The lands were lost to the seas in sudden and violent tremors causing many to lose their lives. The survivors had started a new life with new hope of a bright future.
In the legend of Bali comes the reference to Diwali! Mahabali asked for a boon from Trivikrama that people make Deepa-dāna for three days in his memory for getting vanquished by three feet measures of Trivikrama. The three feet measures in fact refer to the tremors in the land and in the sky and then again on the land making it sink forever – the last one referring to the loss of habitat for people represented by Mahabali. Trivikrama’s boon that Mahabali would once again come back in a future Manvantra is allegorical of a future probability of the sunken lands rising up again which would then be recognised as Varaha lifting up the lands. Vamana and Varaha avataras are thus alternating recurrences of two geological phenomena.
The three days starting from the day before the New Moon in Libra till the day after that are supposed to be the time of a massive destruction of a former civilization in the southern hemisphere. That also happens to be the New Year time in the southern hemisphere. The survivors have remembered it in two ways, as destruction of Asuras (of the southern hemisphere) and a beginning of new life and marked it with lighting lamps.
The continuity of New Year Era of the south in India by Mālavas and the people of Krishna’s country is in effect proof of migration of an olden civilization from South and South East Asia and not from Europe or West Asia, as western Indologists want us to believe. Migrations could have happened from Europe at later dates but the original customs and culture had come from the south along with the people who survived destruction. Or else kings from Manu’s times could not be expected to have celebrated the day with Lamps.
In support of this claim, there is an inscription (E.I. Vol 4, No 18) found in the northern wall of the 2nd prakara of the temple of Lord Ranganatha at Srirangam attributed to king Ravivarman of Kerala saying that the auspicious festival of ‘Deepotsava’ aimed at dispersing darkness was celebrated in olden days by kings Ila, Kartavirya and Sagara. Of them Ila was the son of Vaivasvata Manu, the progenitor of the current population of India as per Hindu texts whose name is associated with Matsya avatara. But celebration of Deepotsava by his son is proof of a further past with a connection to southern hemisphere (Mahabali) and subsequent migration to Indian mainland. He had carried the memory of Trivikrama. One must remember that until 12,000 years ago, India, particularly north India was not habitable due to Ice Age and glaciations of the Himalayas while southern hemisphere was more hospitable for human life.
Newer legends of Diwali from Krishna’s times
As time passed by, newer episodes added fresh impetus to the old concept of Deepa-dāna. All the concepts around the 5-day Diwali except Bali Pratipada (in memory of Mahabali) can be related to a single event in Krishna’s life that happened in a place called Prāgjyothisha, which was originally located in today’s Myanmar and Thailand – known as Indra Dweepa in olden days! That event was the slaying of Narakasura!
This event recounted in Mahabharata and Vishnu Purana sounds more like a geological happening, similar to the destruction of Mahabali by Trivikrama. The etymological understanding of the names further reinforces the geological secret embedded in the event. The story is this:
The city of Prāgjyothisha was held by Naraka, the son of earth (hence he was known as Bhauma). He was fierce and tormented the people killing them often. He kept the two ear rings of Aditi under him, and made it inaccessible to the Devas. Many were imprisoned by him. His deputy, another asura by name Muru defended his city be a series of nooses around that were difficult to cross.
Then came Krishna from Dwaraka along with his wife Satyabhama, mounted on his carrier, Garuda. He entered Prāgjyothisha by clearing the way and making a road. He cut the nooses laid by Muru by his Chakrayudha (discus) and killed many asuras in a place called Nirmochana (meaning Liberation). Finally he killed Naraka and freed the people trapped by him. Then Aditi, the mother of Devas and also of Naraka appeared before Krishna. What she told to Krishna unravels the true purport of the slaying of Narakasura.
Aditi told that when she was held high by Krishna in his Varaha avatar, Naraka was born to her by rising from her. Naraka was given by Krishna and was also killed by him. Her two jewelled ear studs had been restored from Naraka and she was happy to offer them to Krishna to keep for progeny. What does this all convey? Basically it conveys that Naraka was not a human being! There was some geological trouble happening for a long time which Krishna had stopped.
Deciphering Narakasura story
Aditi was mother earth that had risen from waters (attributed to Varaha avatara). The one who rises from her and torments people must have been a volcano. That was Narakasura. Naraka means tormenter. Because he was a tormenter he was identified as Naraka! The location name Prāgjyothisha also has a relevance to volcano. Prāg means summit and the Prāgjyothisha refers to a light at summit, which is but a reference to volcano. (The same name appears in Valmiki Ramayana as a product of Varaha, but in the western side of India. It could refer to Mount Vesuvius)
The continuous flowing down of the lava had caused series of rings (nooses) in the surroundings that looked like the handiwork of Muru (Muru means kind of dance). The spreading lava started blocking access to the surrounding regions. Krishna broke off the lava sediments and paved a way. He had even caused the volcano to crumble or implode and become extinguished. This resulted in access to two jewelled items held by the earth. Further decipherment of these ideas and the location of Narakasura can be made from two clues given in the narration itself.
- Krishna brought the tree of Parijata after this episode from the land of Indra.
- Indra’s elephant Iravata was saved from Narakasura who was threatening to take it away.
First clue shows that the land of Indra was Indra Dweepa, a name for the combined lands of Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The flower Parijata (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis ) is native to these regions (South East Asia) and the Indian sub continent also. But it was not growing in India until this episode means that it was originally found in South East Asia (Indra Dweepa) from where it was brought to India. Krishna had brought it to India (Dwaraka) at the insistence of Satyabhama. From this we can locate Prāgjyothisha of Narakasura in Indra Dweepa.
The second clue shows that the volcanic flow of Naraka had gone closer to river Iravati of Indra Dweepa.
We can locate a volcano named Mt Popa (Pali equivalent of Pushpa) in the region of Mynamar 60 km away from river Iravati! Interestingly this volcano had collapsed in its north and North West side – in the direction of anyone coming from India. One can see a deep caldera in that part signalling the death of the volcano. By not growing further, the lava had not reached the river Iravati.
Mount Popa in Mynamar with fissures in the North-western slope
Once this volcano had stopped tormenting the people, the road to further south became clear where two gem mines are located. In places like Chanthaburi and Kanchanaburi in today’s Thailand are located the famous mines of two gems namely sapphire and ruby. The path taken by Krishna to these mines after crossing (slaying) Naraka (Mt Popa) looks as follows:
The recovery of the two jewelled ear studs of Aditi could mean access to these mines and starting the work of mining those gems. This could also mean that Krishna and his clan had access to the wealth of Kubera or Lakshmi! Krishna’s visit to this place could have had the motive of gaining control over the mines. Or why else should he take his wife on this journey if it was meant only for destroying Narakasura?
The ultimate success of the trip by gaining wealth for his clan was celebrated as Dhanteras (Dhana- Trayodasi). Further variation as Dhanvantari Trayodasi must have been added later for the fact that health is the greatest wealth.
The collapse of the volcano must have happened on Chaturdasi day. For the faithfuls, Krishna had caused the collapse by his discus, for others it was a natural phenomenon that could have coincided with Krishna’s arrival. The event happening in the traditional Trivikrama New Year day coinciding with the end of Mahabali must have made it a new repetition of the olden belief. But the event occurring in Krishna’s presence or by the grace of Krishna, the people would have started glorifying it as Deepa Dāna day that removes darkness from the lives of people – of that region and also of Dvārakā as new wealth had started pouring into Dvārakā.
The next day, that is., the Amavasya day was therefore a thanksgiving day to Lakshmi. As an extension, the wealth of cow is recognised after that – on the day that was originally the beginning of the New Year in Mahabali’s location. And the day after that was celebration time among the siblings. Thus we find the 5-day celebration of Diwali of current times having evolved from Krishna’s times with different regions focusing on one or more of them as time went by. Any different version in a region, say of Kali worship in Bengal is aligned with the basic concept of destruction followed by Light.
Further support to the supposition from Krishna’s life comes from the archaeological findings in Myanmar and Thailand. A vast region covering places like Kanchanaburi where the gem-mines are located was known as DVARAVATI since ancient times.
Dvaravati was originally the name of Dvārakā of Krishna. This name appearing in regions as far as Laos could only reiterate the Krishna-legend of visit to Prāgjyothisha. It also raises the possibility of movement of people between Indra Dweepa and India (Dvaraka in particular). One cannot dismiss the fact that both Gujarat and Bangkok (along with Kanchanaburi) are well known for gem cutting and polishing even today – an occupation that could have evolved at the time of Krishna whose primary objective of the trip to Prāgjyothisha could have been to gain control over the gem producing mines. Or why else he should lay the road to Prāgjyothisha?
Though Dvaravati culture started appearing from 4th to 5th century onwards, researchers are of the opinion that a proto-Dvaravati culture must have existed much before that as it would have taken a long time for the sophisticated culture to have come into place in the 4th century. There are Chinese and Buddhist sources to attest to the presence of this culture, but this culture was not Buddhist, but pre-Buddhist according to researchers.
Another interesting confirmation of Krishna’s connection to this place comes from a Khmer inscription dated at 937 CE that gives a list of princes of Chanasapura starting from one Bhagadatta. Bhagadatta is the name of the king of Prāgjyothisha in Krishna’s times. Even before Krishna went to Prāgjyothisha to ‘slay’ Naraka, Bhagadatta had left for the western frontiers of India for fear of Jarāsandha. But his name had remained, perhaps along with his descendants in Mynamar and someone with that name had started a new dynasty.
All this goes to show that the stories on Krishna’s life are not myths; that evidence of Hindu culture, names and temples in Myanmar and Thailad are not of recent origin but as old as Krishna’s times; that Diwali contains in itself more secrets than what we can imagine. All talk of diversity and variation in Diwali are of recent origin perhaps due to disconnect with our past caused by continuous onslaught of invaders. The celebration of Diwali in any part of India bears some connection with Krishna’s journey to Prāgjyothisha while the core concept remains the same ever since Mahabali was lost to the seas!